Is Facebook Marketing a Dead End for Small Brands?

You know that old saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Facebook has repeatedly pulled the rug out from under small businesses using its brand pages platform for marketing in the past few years – and yet we keep going back for more.

Over time, Facebook has slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) eroded the reach of posts from brand pages. First it put in place an algorithm that stopped showing brand posts to all followers in their newsfeeds. Then it started slowly tightening that algorithm like a noose, choking off brands’ access to their followers’ newsfeeds – and offering no “follow all” option for brands like it does for personal accounts that allows a user to override the removal of content and see everything that is posted.

Facebook Brand PageWe’ve definitely noticed the decline in reach at Nally Studios. Our stats show our Facebook posts going out to only a small fraction of our followers, and the decline has been precipitous in recent months. Social media research consulting firm Ogilvy & Mather, in a recently published white paper, described our experience as typical and calculates the organic reach of a typical brand post as 6% on Facebook in February 2014, down almost by half since the fall. For extremely large brands, reach is even smaller – more like 2%.

Even more frightening for brands who are heavily invested in Facebook marketing, Ogilvy reports in the white paper that Facebook is privately telling large brands that organic reach will soon go to zero. In other words, soon no one will see a brand page post in their newsfeed unless the brand actually paid Facebook to promote it. Money will talk…but no one else will.

So does this mean Facebook is dead for small to medium sized businesses with limited marketing budgets? Some businesses think so. Food delivery service Eat 24 posted a very witty and thought-provoking “break-up letter to Facebook” on their blog last weekend announcing they would be deleting their Facebook page on Monday (which they in fact did). Although entertaining, it is a must-read mostly for the way it gets to the heart of the matter of a business struggling with its Facebook identity in the face of the changing identity of Facebook itself.

Is Eat 24 right? Does Facebook have no value if your posts’ organic reach is zero? If Facebook becomes a pay-to-play echo chamber (correction: it really already has), is there anything worthwhile there for those whose marketing budgets are too small to pay to promote every single thing they post to thousands of people, which would require a budget of at least a thousand dollars a month to be worthwhile for even the smallest brand?

Ogilvy & Mather thinks that Facebook isn’t dead for small brands but just evolving. They see it becoming an important platform for paid advertising, as your audience has already selected itself and so it has the potential for highly targeted campaigns with high success rates. This, of course, freezes out the companies who do not have that sort of advertising budget and by default turns their Facebook pages into yet another company billboard for whoever wanders by to see it. Ogilvy also sees Facebook remaining an important platform for customer service, as customers will continue to come to a page organically when they have an issue to be dealt with.

But the most important lesson from all of this is one that I’ve been passionate about evangelizing for some time: do not build your house in someone else’s yard! If you commit yourself to being heavily dependent for marketing on an outside platform that you do not own – you are setting yourself up to have the rug pulled out from under you. You should own every contact channel that is important to your business. If your blog URL has another company’s name in it (like Typepad or Blogspot), you are making another company’s name a part of your brand, and tying yourself to them for better or worse. If you allow consumers’ main line of access to you (to subscribe to content or get updates from you about what is new, etc) to be Facebook or Twitter or another social media platform – you are channeling your customer base through another business. Businesses like to make money, and so eventually the situation will become like what has happened with the Facebook brand pages. Facebook knows that it owns access to your customers – something very valuable – and it is holding that hostage for ransom. The goal of brand marketing should always be to secure some sort of direct access to a customer, through an email sign-up or other marketing contact that does not go through a social platform.

Today, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are all free to use, and many brands are building lucrative presences there. But there should always be one eye on the end game of “what if this goes away tomorrow?” (or more likely, becomes unaffordable). Make sure you, not a social platform, own your audience.

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24 Responses to Is Facebook Marketing a Dead End for Small Brands?

  1. itsybel, April 1, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

    Facebook has become too commercial–I’m one of those facebookers who will hide an ad and report how annoying it is and block the company who wasted my time. I don’t mind the ads on the side bar, but once they got into my newsfeed and into my groups, it has become annoying. I’m sorry. Yes, I do like tons of pages–when I want to see those company’s ads I will click on the side link marked pages and see what they have posted–if a company has post after post after post after post–I simply unlike them. Maybe if business wouldn’t have taken advantage of the ‘like’ and ‘share’ aspects of FB they wouldn’t be having the issues they’re having. Yes I do have a business page, no I do not hold contests to see how many share’s and likes a contest can get–that’s what has become annoying and that is nothing more than free advertising for the companies which FB is not getting paid for those ads. Not fair to free FB, not fair to FBookers who don’t want their newsfeeds cluttered with duplicate ads. JMHO

    • Nancy Nally April 1, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

      I totally agree about the contests for Likes and Shares. Very annoying and just create spam. As the owner myself of multiple brand pages, I believe in a philosophy of putting up quality content that people will interact with on their own.

  2. April April 1, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Perhaps companies will finally stop the annoying practice of announcing everything on Facebook. If you get their news some other way (email newsletter or Twitter for instance) when you click the link for more info it takes you to Facebook instead if the company’s website. That practice drives me CRAZY! It’s like having a customer in your store ask where housewares is located & rather than saying it’s on the 3rd floor next to the children’s department, you tell them the location of the mall information kiosk.

    • itsybel, April 2, 2014 at 10:39 am #

      very true, and there’s actually a lot of people that do not use or want to use Facebook. Most of their so called contests you’re required to approve the use of your personal information? That’s not a company who cared about privacy or their customers.

      • Nancy Nally April 2, 2014 at 10:41 am #

        Facebook’s record on privacy is terrible. And that is because the users are not the customer – they are the product being sold. So Facebook doesn’t care about them.

  3. Susanne April 1, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    Interesting article Nancy. Just this past weekend, my two kids in their 20’s were telling me that more and more of their friends are getting off of Facebook. They claim those who are really into tech are moving on, often because of a perceived lack of control over their personal space on the site. I’m not sure what the next big thing will be, but I think that everyone wearies after a while of getting slammed with ads at every turn. I thought Pinterest was great until they tried to recruit me to repin things and I realized that trending items were not necessarily true trends, but manufactured. It soon turned into a marketing game. I think people will start to focus their choices more when they feel bombarded with irrelevant content.

    • Lyne B April 2, 2014 at 9:31 am #

      You just confirmed for me what I’ve been wondering about my pinterest page lately…why are all these pins showing up from people I don’t follow!

    • itsybel, April 2, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      It’s more like companies have lost focus of their customers and care more of how many pins they get, how many likes and shares they get and have forgotten about their customers. hopefully they’re rethink their ‘free’ advertising campaigns and refocus on the customer and that their customers have a life outside of repining, liking and sharing, or having to delete/hide posts just to see what’s important.

  4. pennysmith April 2, 2014 at 12:22 am #

    Very much agree. If I’m on twitter and a company I follow (Studio Calico, My Mind’s Eye, etc.) put up a tweet that links to instagram or facebook, I don’t follow it and I tell them why. Put the link to YOUR OWN CONTENT, not FB or IG. Many people don’t use them. Others don’t want to be tracked by them. Just link to your own content regardless of the entry point (Twitter, FB, IG, Pinterest, Youtube, etc.). Companies have got to learn that not everyone FBs and more are leaving every year – especially the younger demographic.

  5. gabmcann April 2, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    Interesting article … thanks Nancy

  6. Maja April 2, 2014 at 6:19 am #

    Facebook is for me a page to stay in contact with my real friends not with companies. Sorry.

  7. Jennifer Wilson April 2, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    While I wholeheartedly agree that you shouldn’t bank your business on platforms you can’t control, I disagree that you need a large advertising budget to operate within Facebook’s new model. Yes, it’s frustrating when things change but I believe the Chicken Little response we’re seeing (across all industries) is a bit short-sighted.

    • Nancy Nally April 2, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      Even the industry’s most prestigious consulting firms are acknowledging that Facebook is turning into what will be only a paid advertising platform in the very near future. Please explain what they’ve gotten wrong? Even Facebook is telling these companies that this is going to happen.

      • Jennifer Wilson April 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

        Sorry for the slow reply Nancy. Even though I subscribed to the comments, I didn’t see this one for some reason! In any case…

        I don’t disagree with the facts of how Facebook’s business model is changing – and yes they have been transparent about it. What I disagree with is that it’s forcing small businesses out completely. You can still see good success by being strategic with a small ad budget and continued effort at creating engaging content. Facebook has also made it easier than ever to target the people who would most benefit from your messages.

  8. Erika @ Scrapbook Obsession Blog April 2, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    Great article as always, Nancy. I saw Eat 24’s buh-bye last week and loved it! As a social media and blog VA (virtual assistant), I’ve used Facebook for clients as they’ve asked but haven’t seen ROI from it in time or money other than another way to build rapport. The conversions I’ve tracked don’t pan out to paying customers the way other things do. It’s also alienating to those who don’t use FB at all and, depending on your customer base (like scrapbookers), that can be an important audience you’re missing AND ticking off. I’ve always wondered about businesses who run their ‘forums’ on FB; seems shaky and, again, alienating. All that great content and you don’t own it, they do.

    I also believe exactly what you said: Create content on your own real estate. To me, FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. are for bringing people to your main site. That’s why I don’t think prominent social media icons on a site/blog and a constant push to join your other social networks are a great idea because they take the reader AWAY from your main content. From a business perspective AND as a customer, I prefer to engage with people via blog/website and mailing list.

    If FB is now a dead end for small biz marketing, where do you think those with smaller budgets will focus their advertising?

  9. VickyR April 2, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    I am not anti-technology, but the technology I use must fit my wants and needs. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc. because the sites are time wasters and because they track their users. I am anti-tracking without an specific opt-in. I don’t find digital scrapbooking attractive because I like the touch and feel of a three-dimensional creation. Being tactile, I used to buy all my supplies in brick-and-mortar stores. But store selections are dwindling, so I am buying more and more on the internet. I only use websites that respect me enough to give me all necessary product information on their site. If I am directed to Facebook, Twitter,blogs etc, I will find a website where I can make an informed quick decision.

    Giving me great customer service will keep my business, not tracking me through “social” media.

    By the way, I use anti-tracking and anti-scripting software to keep myself in control of my personal information and to block Facebook’s philosophy of tracking non-users on non-Facebook sites as well as their own users on all sites.

    • Nancy Nally April 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      There’s a big generational gap as far as privacy on the internet. The generation that grew up on the internet doesn’t value their privacy so much because they never really had it the way previous generations have had. There is also an understanding that there is an inherent trade-off that must take place if they want free content online. If they aren’t willing to pay, they have to give something else to the transaction – and that something is personal information so that they can be targeted for marketing. “If you’re not paying…you’re the product.” Sites like Scrapbook Update can only be free because of advertising.

  10. Nancie April 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Nancy – Well said! I’ve had a Page for my business on Facebook for a few years and have never found it to be a good place to advertise, either by posting on my Page or by promoting those posts. (Promoting a post doesn’t guarantee that all the people who have Liked your Page will actually see it; instead it just seems to create those “sponsored posts” that annoyingly show up in the newsfeed of FRIENDS of people who have Liked your page.) I haven’t tried placing actual ads because I think most of us have learned to ignore what happens in the right column there and a lot of people don’t want to see ads there anyway.

    But what you are talking about is simply the posts you put on your Page. I’ve seen the same thing you have — that progressively fewer and fewer people see anything posted on my Page. The numbers really dived drastically last fall when they changed their newsfeed algorithm to the point that it is not worth putting a lot of effort into posting there. (These days, I only post there to let people know that I’ve got a new stamping article up on my blog or an eArticle on my website. So few people see those posts that I recommend that people subscribe to the blog to find this out and not rely on FB.)

    Personally, my feeling is that if you Like a business Page, you are saying that you want to see their posts. If you don’t like seeing their posts, then you simply un-Like the Page. I do actually enjoy some business Pages on Facebook. For example, I think Car Talk posts are hilarious and I never want to miss anything from King Arthur Flour. If there is a Page that you really like and don’t want to miss any posts, there are a couple of things you can do.

    One is to make a point to click on, Like and/or comment on that Page’s posts. That way FB knows you are interested and is more likely to show people those posts (at least the way it works now.)

    The second way is to go to the Page and click on the drop down arrow next to the Liked button and turn on “Get Notifications”. That way, even if FB doesn’t show you a post in the newsfeed, you’ll still get a notification when something is posted. (You probably wouldn’t want to do this with a ton of Pages but it’s manageable for a few.)

    But these two methods are totally in the hands of the FB reader and not the Page owner. FB really doesn’t have a way for the Page itself to be sure that everyone who has said that they WANT to see a Page’s posts will see them. So for a very small business in particular, I think it may not really be all that worthwhile to have a Page there. I still do, mostly because there is no cost to keep the existing Page there.

    That’s my three cents! : )

  11. Frostygoth April 8, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    I’ve recently decided to drastically reduce my participation on FB, both in posting and reading my feed, because I’m no longer getting news from any of the bands and companies I want to follow. I originally thought FB would replace company e-newsletters and websites because everything is consolidated into one platform, so how convenient, right? But if FB is going to hide all of the information from the bands and companies I wanted to follow, there’s no point. All I’m left with on FB is my friends posting what they had for breakfast and what their kid said that day, which isn’t very interesting to me. 🙂 And I have seen many bands and companies leave FB as a result.

    My husband got a Twitter account and subscribes to the bands and companies he’s interested in. I’m thinking of doing that as a means to be notified again of new events, products, etc., as a backup to newsletters because some of the smaller guys don’t do newsletters. Email is still my preferred source for information because I access all information through one program, but Twitter for corporate news might be a good backup. Nancy makes a great point to have your own web presence and not rely solely on other businesses–something the younger generation won’t really realize until their data is compromised. I guess individual websites won’t be going away anytime soon after all!

    • Jennifer Wilson April 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

      One of the easiest ways to make sure you see what you want to see on Facebook is to create an Interest List and add your favorite pages to it. This will create a special feed where all you see are the postings for those pages. The more you interact with those pages, the more they will also appear in your regular news feed too.

  12. Nancy Nally April 9, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    It’s interesting you highlighted the importance of engaging content. We’ve been experimenting with both promoted posts and trying to create some viral content…despite Facebook’s increasing emphasis on advertising, by far the most successful stuff has been the stuff that we’ve built to go viral.

    That’s not because the viral stuff has been great – it’s because the response to our paid advertising with Facebook has been downright dismal. Not even a noticeable response, really. Which is why I’m so frustrated that Facebook is going to that model. If advertising is soon the only way to reach people at all, and I am getting no response to mine…where does that leave me?

    Oh and another frustration…every time I run a campaign I end up seeing it in my own feed – which means that Facebook is charging me to see MY OWN stuff? They can’t figure out that I’m the page’s owner and wrote the darn thing? I feel cheated.

  13. scraperfect April 20, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Interesting article, Nancy! How about Google Plus? Is it or will it become the same thing? I hear many people switching to that. And how do you CREATE viral content? I had a post abot a guy whose EX-girlfriend used a Sharpie Marker on his memento football jerseys –and used our Best Cleaner Ever™ to remove it. The graphic images are amazing–and the fact that she is an EX hints as to what she wrote. It didn’t go viral…

  14. Christine Lawson April 25, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    Very interesting comments, and timely as well. I am in the process of buying a scrap kit business which although relatively small currently, has an excellent reputation with its blog followers and subscriber base. I am facing the question, if not a FB page to engage with existing and potential clients, then what?

    I do not want at all to spam or be one of those annoying “post everything” or constant buy messages, but how do I keep an audience informed about new projects on our blog, or video tutorials? I know from my own experience following brands i love that despite creating an interest list and selecting Get Notifications, some of those I have liked and followed seemed to have dissapeared from my news feed. Meanwhile my right hand bar displays only ads I am completely uninterested in.

    So, as an ethical business owner, how would you want me to connect with you? Twitter really does not feel like a good fit for my visually intensive communication… Pinterest was great to begin with but when everyone has a thousand pins they never look at again, what is the point?

    And maybe big brands can afford to have an FB budget but I simply cannot. No wonder most small stores are now gone. You either end up going strickly online, in which case you get lost in the babble… or you are a chain which can afford to stay in business and live based on economies of scale.

    I know this is quite a long post but I would love to hear your thoughts.

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